I would like to thank EarSonics for providing Grace in return for my honest opinion.

The Headphone List and EarSonics; it’s been a longstanding tradition of collaboration. Back in the early days average_joe and ljokerl covered almost every model they had to offer, while my personal interest in high-end portable audio was equally kickstarted by EarSonics in-ears as the SM64 and Velvet. Since then I’ve made a similar progression through the newer EarSonics models, and have been fortunate to witness firsthand the evolution of Franck Lopez’ designing touch. For instance, the EM32, Velvet, and S-EM9 all bore a strong resemblance, combining a highly detailed sound with an energizing bass.

The EM10 in turn marked a departure to a different type of sound, focusing on tone rather than precision; a spiritual successor of models as the SM64 and EM6 perhaps. The EM10’s unique specialty however was its upper midrange, a region which traditionally always seemed a bit neglected with EarSonics models. In a way, the EM10 brought a new beauty to the sound that was missing in the lineup, although some might consider it an acquired taste. Their new model ‘Grace’ is again undeniably an EarSonics production in line with the S-EM9, but builds forth on this special element of the EM10.


Build and accessories

Quite frankly, neither the build nor accessories will be anything new for avid EarSonics fans. EarSonics is known to keep their designs simple, and again offers a classic black finish with the name ‘Grace’ in an orange-yellow hue. The shape of Grace’s shell is identical to that of the S-EM9, which have a semi-custom fit due to their oval form. The nozzles are slanted diagonally inwards and house three bores. The smooth body and moderately compact size make it a comfortable earphone, which I can’t see providing fit issues for most people. At the top Grace makes use of a two-pin connection, and is accompanied by the trusty Plastic One 3-wire OFC cable. The exception of course is that EarSonics designs their in-ears with reversed polarity compared to most others.

The box and packaging continues to progress with minimal adaptations. The box is a stylish matte black design, with a cover that folds backwards to display the earpieces. It’s a little bit of a puzzle to open up first, but makes for a beautiful presentation. The layout and carrying case remains the same, as well as the amount of accessories. EarSonics provides the mandatory cleaning tool and 6.3 mm adapter, as well as a small variety of foam and both single and bi-flange tips. It’s not an abundant collection, but should do for most people. The primary change is that the classic EarSonics bi-flange tips have changed from gray to black, to now match the rest of the packaging and black earpieces of course.


Sound impressions

As mentioned, Grace can be viewed as a variation of a familiar sound, rather than diverging into something new altogether. While the EM10 was somewhat a departure, Grace again builds forth on the path EarSonics previously set out. The essence of both the Velvet and S-EM9 was providing a lively sound through agility and precision, yet powered by an engaging bass – one of the staple ingredients of an EarSonics product, in terms of quality and quantity. Which isn’t surprising, as Franck Lopez’ origins are as a bass player. Therefore, it didn’t really matter what kind of signature it was tuned with, you could always count on an EarSonics product to provide a weighty bass.

Grace’s bass is again quite pleasing, but regresses to a more prototypical BA bass that is less dominant in terms of physical quantity. Instead, it is technically quite proficient. The mid-bass provides a nice sense of impact, while offering a rapid decay – a quick bass that provides a rhythmic hit, and then dissolves into the background. In doing so it possesses qualities to be dubbed an ‘audiophile’ bass – providing clean hits that refrain from interfering with the separation, which makes it better capable to process quick, complex passages. This makes it quite a fun bass, even though it is only slightly north of neutral. Even so, it comes with the familiar issues of BA driven bass, such as only a moderate bottom-end extension and a slightly drier tone. So for the bass purist that thrives on the deep rumble of a well-executed dynamic driver for instance, the impact Grace provides will likely not be sufficient.


Pursuant to the moderate mid-bass quantity, Grace does not add a thickness to the note. A slight lift around 1 KHz provides a right amount of focus to vocals, without making it too central in the presentation. Instead there is a nice balance between the bass and midrange, and accordingly, between the vocal and instruments. This is where Grace displays the greatest similarities with the S-EM9; a neutral midrange in size and forwardness, accompanied by an articulate treble. Where it distinguishes itself however, is a flair in the upper midrange inspired by the EM10. For where many EarSonics models were traditionally tuned with a dip in the upper midrange, Grace offers a melodious ring in its upper mids, which makes for a more lively presentation.

This brings its general tone in the range of what I would refer to as ‘musical neutral’, where it isn’t necessarily warm, but certainly isn’t clinically clean. For example, people acquainted with 64 Audio’s A6t or A18t might recognize some general similarity. It’s a type of tuning that easily lends itself for a wide variety of genres, both instrument-based and electronic. In fact, Grace follows a longstanding EarSonics tradition of performing excellently for synthetic music such as ambient or EDM. This is partially because of its ability to handle quick and complex passages, but the tone of the upper mids certainly contributes.


The final ingredient is its treble, which again, bares great resemblance to that of the S-EM9. A statement I would personally consider a compliment – a treble that’s quick, well-defined, and clear in tone; a refined treble. It offers a modest touch of sparkle, while simultaneously remaining smooth. As a result, it’s a treble that lends itself for pushing up the volume, invites itself for doing so even. Of course, some might prefer even more treble presence, but I find it a great execution for my personal taste. In terms of absolute extension it neither excels nor underperforms, which is mirrored in its resolution. Taken together, Grace offers a balanced presentation that is neither thick nor lean, and offers a musical note due to its general tone.

Comparisons

EarSonics EM10 (1990)
Grace’s co-flagship possesses some similar traits, but essentially strives for a different type of sound. Due to its enhanced mid- and upper-bass, the EM10 creates a thicker, more bodied sound. Simultaneously, its treble is smoother and generally more laidback. The EM10’s focus lies clearly on the upper midrange, resulting in a very easy listen to signature with a beautiful tone. While Grace shares some similarity in the upper midrange, its treble is more articulate, which provides a more rhythmic companion to the midrange. Its midrange in turn is a bit leaner, although the vocal forwardness and density is similar.

In terms of staging, the EM10 creates a more classic rectangular stage with an average width and depth. Grace’s stage is clearly wider as a result from the enhanced treble, although it is not particularly deep. Accordingly, Grace relies primarily on its width for separation, while the EM10’s layering is more effective. Pursuant to its lifted treble, Grace’s imaging is a little bit more precise, although this particularly pertains to its treble notes. In addition, its midrange is a bit more transparent. Even so, their overall extension and accordingly performance is fairly similar.

Empire Ears Phantom ($1799)
Much like the EM10, the Phantom is an in-ear primarily designed for tone. And similarly, it outputs a greater quantity of mid-bass compared to Grace, as well as offering greater bottom-end extension. Accordingly, the Phantom’s midrange is thicker and warmer, with a more forward vocal reproduction: the Phantom puts the singer in the spotlight, where Grace pursues an even balance between the vocal and its instruments. Grace’s bass is tighter and quicker, and its midrange notes a bit leaner.


In addition, it offers a more lively upper midrange, with slightly more treble presence. The Phantom’s general tone is warmer, and accordingly, a bit more natural in timbre for instrument-based music. By contrast, Grace’s upper mids sound more melodious, and fare better with a larger variety of synthetic-based music such as pop or EDM. Due to Grace’s lifted treble, it provides greater clarity overall, as well as a marginal improvement in extension. Finally, its stage is a bit wider, although the Phantom’s is deeper.

Westone ES80 ($1899)
Compared to the previous two, the ES80 comes closer to what Grace is trying to achieve: a linear tuning with excellent balance across the board. The ES80 however has one aspect that sets it apart; I consider it to be one of the most high performing in-ears when it comes to end-to-end extension, and accordingly ‘true’ resolution: high definition of notes and background blackness. Indeed, the ES80 has better extension at both ends, resulting in greater sub-bass impact at the bottom end, and higher resolution overall. In addition, it has slightly greater mid-bass presence, although it remains a controlled bass similar to Grace.

The two share a fairly similar approach when it comes to midrange and treble; a neutral midrange in size and forwardness, with an articulate and detailed treble. The main difference however lies in their tone. The ES80 comes very close to neutral, staying barely on the warmer side. But it does sound a bit uneventful in comparison to Grace, which has a more lively tone overall. Accordingly, Grace is the easier, more fun in-ear to listen to, where the ES80 is technically more proficient.


Concluding remarks

With EarSonics’ latest model, their gradual progression continues. While former models as the Velvet, EM32, and S-EM9 excelled with stimulating tunings by means of pace and precision, their tone hovered around the more neutral side of the spectrum accompanied by brighter elements. Grace picks up where they left off, but now provides a more all-round tuning by means of its tone. It’s a fun earphone to listen to, that refrains from over- or underemphasizing specific components of the frequency range.

Grace’s name was inspired by a sense of elegance and splendor. A more feminine touch if you will. And indeed, there is a case for that to be made. For instance, Grace doesn’t provide a bold or thick type of sound. This isn’t a bass that’s trying to prove how tough it is, or a vocal reproduction bent on putting a display of power. So for listeners that are more selectively focused on either bass, vocals, or treble, it probably won’t provide an overwhelming experience. Rather, it leans towards a more delicate, refined signature where balance is key, and a touch of beauty in its tone brings it alive. So for those that were delighted by the S-EM9, Grace forms a natural evolution.

 

EarSonics Grace
Configuration: 10 BA drivers, 3-Way crossover with impedance corrector
Impedance: 26.6 Ohm
Sensitivity: 119 dB/mW
Price: €2000

Company Website
www.earsonics.com/in-ear-monitors/